Monday, June 14, 2010

Broken butterfly

The weekend was very hot and windy, an unsettling combination around these parts. One afternoon I walked downtown for an iced latte and on the way home I found a tiny, tattered, dead butterfly on the sidewalk at a busy intersection. I cupped it carefully in my hand and brought it home so I could draw it and discover what kind of butterfly it was. I was pleased that my sketches made it quite easy to identify, using Butterflies through Binoculars: The West by Jeffrey Glassberg, as Mylitta Crescent or Phyciodes mylitta, a fairly common butterfly of the western United States and Mexico. The length of the butterfly's body was 13 mm or 1/2 inch.


When I checked into flickr this morning I was delighted to see that, in southwest Florida, Elizabeth Smith had also painted a butterfly that she found, a Gulf fritillary.

I've been working out how to sketch with color when I'm out in the field. Having spent most of my life in a studio this has been an amazingly complex problem to solve! I sketched the underside of the butterfly with watercolor and the upperside with colored pencil. I liked both media for this project. The watercolor went on faster but is harder for me to work with quickly as it's been a difficult medium for me. The colored pencils were a bit slower but are easier for me to work with when I'm not in my comfort zone. I'm also looking forward to experimenting with using both together.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mushrooms. In June.

I hadn't been to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery in a while and went by the other day to see what I might find there. After sketching some lovely Clarkia in the garden, I wandered about the gravestones and found several Amanita sp. mushrooms fruiting under live oak. Even the most newly emerged mushrooms were pretty dried out but it was still fun to see mushrooms in Santa Rosa in June.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I don't know what to call this one

It was nearly noon and, as I walked on a trail at Howarth Park, two damselflies gracefully attached damselflies drifted past me, piquing my curiosity. When they landed on a blade of grass I began sketching.  I cleverly deduced that they were mating...until I saw that he appeared to be depositing sperm into her head or upper thorax. Curious, I looked on the web to see what I could find out about the sex lives of damselflies.

What I found would certainly be worthy of any soap opera, if these were humans and not insects! The two that I saw may have been courting -- the male chooses a female and attaches himself to her using special apparatus on his abdomen and her thorax. If she's interested she'll raise her abdomen to collect sperm that he's placed in his second abdominal segment. Females mate repeatedly but the male is capable of removing sperm from a previous donor. The last donor's sperm is the sperm which will be used for fertilization. Which leads to the second possible scenario regarding the two damselflies I sketched. Some males will remain attached to the female after mating to ensure that no other males have the chance to remove the sperm that they've contributed.

I drew the male in the upper left when the pair had changed position on the stalk. The pair  moved again before I could draw the female.

For more about damselflies and dragonflies visit these sites:
Cirrus Image
The University of Texas Arlington
New World Encyclopedia
Ron Lyons

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I won a prize!!!

This weekend I was pleasantly surprised to find that Elizabeth Smith, the creator of one of my favorite blogs, A Nature Art Journal in Southwest Florida, has given Just Around the Corner the Beautiful Blogger Award. I'm honored she chose me. Now it's my turn to choose four of my favorite blogs for the award and to tell you ten things about me. I'm going to enjoy choosing the next group of award recipients and grit my teeth while telling ten random things about myself. Ugh!

First, the fun part!

Ken Januski's art, birds, nature is a wonderful exploration of all three and endlessly interesting, not just for Ken's marvelous images of birds but also because he's fearlessly transparent about his process without ever being cringeworthy, an amazing feat!

Clive Christy's Art and the Aesthete is a celebration of printmaking and printmakers, many of whom have I would never had known about if it weren't for this blog. Clive's thoughtful articles and wonderful examples of each artist's works make this one of my favorite destinations when I'm in front of my computer.

At Jana's Journal Jana Bouc explores the Bay Area of California with sketchbook in hand and her descriptions of what she finds are witty and engaging.

Finally, Steve Wilson both blogs and lives at Blue Jay Barrens in southern Ohio. He writes about and photographs his back yard. Okay, it's a pretty big back yard, but I love that all of his blog is focused on this one piece of property.

Those ten not so random facts about me:

1) When I can't draw I feel as though a part of me is missing.
2) I've been drawing pictures since I could hold a pencil.
3) My parents encouraged me to pursue art and I began taking art lessons at the Cleveland Museum of Art when I was about 10 years old.
4) I studied corporate design in college.
5) Then dropped out and learned to be a hairdresser.
6) I began drawing pictures for newspapers.
7) Which led to a career as an editorial illustrator and a move from New York state to California.
8) And a brief interlude as a comic creator.
9) I didn't figure out that I could combine my love of drawing and love of the outdoors until I was over 50.
10) I like stories better than lists.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lions, tigers and...hummingbirds? Oh my!

Tritelia laxa are suddenly popping up in sunny, rocky places in Howarth Park, looking quite regal surrounded by the grasses that are quickly turning to straw. I paused in an open, rocky area to sketch one of them and enjoyed sketching in sunshine instead of gray skies for a change.

Toward the end of my sketching session, as I was adding color, I heard a muted version of the popping noise that occurs as part of a male Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) mating flight. After the third time I looked straight up to see if I could find the fellow and determine why he was performing his flight directly over my head. When I turned around I found that he was hovering a short distance away from me. When he saw that he'd gotten my attention he flew straight at me then veered off at the last minute and landed in a nearby manzanita. I've read that hummingbirds can be fiercely aggressive and can only guess that his mate was nesting nearby or that he really wanted the flower for himself! Whatever it was, I decided the best approach would be a retreat. I finished my sketch and removed myself from the vicinity.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Young ground squirrels

Recently, Chloe and I went to check on the California ground squirrel colony that lives at Camp WaTam, a day camp at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa. Camp starts this week and we won't be able to visit them on weekdays for the rest of the summer. This group of squirrels has taken up residence under two giant portable containers that were placed in the park several years ago. Today, I saw a youngster sitting outside the container and stopped to see if I could capture her youthful demeanor in a quick sketch. She stared at me while I stared right back and sketched. After a short time, two curious siblings poked their heads out of the holes leading to their home and they joined the staring party. Soon, mom came to see what was going on. She kept a watchful eye on her youngsters who kept a watchful eye on me until they grew bored and wandered back under the container.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blue-bellied lizard

I see and hear so many lizards as I walk that you'd think I'd know more about these sun-loving creatures. Alas, I've mostly ignored them. I'll see them lounging on warm rocks and hear them as they furtively skitter off the rocks to take cover when I walk by. Lately, I've been sitting on those rocks and waiting for birds or squirrels to appear, and while waiting I've been visited by a few lizards. Since birds have been pretty scarce I've turned my attention to these prehistoric looking creatures. If I keep a distance and use my binoculars, I've found that some are rather bold and, perhaps, as curious about me as I am about them.

My first surprise was that most of the lizards I've been seeing have blue bellies. Beautiful, iridescent blue bellies. Wow! My husband, a veterinarian, knew right away what they were. Not surprisingly, one of their common names is Blue belly. They're also known as Western Fence Lizards and the official latin name is Sceloporus occidentalis.The blue belly tells me that this lizard is an adult male.

Greg told me that they are slightly toxic to cats. Which reminded me of a cat that lived with me long ago, Henry, who became extremely gaunt one summer and lost his appetite. Worried that something terrible was wrong with him, I took him to a different veterinarian, as I hadn't yet met Greg. She told me that he was probably eating lizards. Sure enough, David, my next door neighbor, told me that he'd been finding lizard carcasses in his driveway lately and wondered what was going on.

Apparently, these lizards are more than pretty blue bellies. In areas where they're found there is a decreased chance of contracting Lyme disease. According to a California Academy of Science article a protein in the blood of these lizards kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. When a western black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) bites the lizard it's blood is cleansed of the Borrelia burgdorferi. Then, if it bites you or me, it's just a tick bite, not the beginning of an unpleasant disease.

You can read more about Blue bellies at:
Wikipedia
California Academy of Science
Kaweah Oaks

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ordinary but new to me

Today I found a group of small wildflowers I've never seen before. They were poking out of hard dirt along a trail in Howarth Park near the edge of Spring Lake Park. They're quite small and I had a hard time seeing detail even with my trusty magnifier. Once I got home I looked through my field guides and have tentatively identified them as Allium amplectens, a locally common member of the onion family. They're also called Narrowleaf onion although there weren't any leaves to be found by the time I stumbled upon them. According to the USDA they're found in the United States and Canada in the states on the west coast and can be considered invasive.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In the mood

I was in my living room and kept hearing loud finch song, but a different song than I usually hear, more insistent and much louder. I went quietly to the window and saw this fellow literally dancing about my feeder with as much zeal as anyone on Dancing with the Stars around an extremely indifferent female who kept eating black oil sunflower seeds, stopping only to snap at this guy when he got too close. I felt badly for him. If I were a house finch I would've been utterly captivated by his charming performance and followed him to the moon.